**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**
To paraphrase that great military philosopher and mercenary Col. John “Hannibal” Smith, “Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?”
When the Golden Knights managed to wrangle Alex Tuch away from the Minnesota Wild for a third-round conditional draft pick, someone knew something. All the organization needed to do was show some patience.
The Wild had drafted Tuch in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft at No. 18 overall. He appeared in six games with Minnesota and was scoreless. Minnesota, which was hell-bent on protecting defenseman Matt Dumba, basically give Tuch away as the Knights used the Wild’s expansion selection to take Erik Haula.
Today, Tuch is a first-line winger, kills penalties, plays on the power play, and is one of Vegas’ best players. And he’s signed through 2026 at an AAV of $4.75 million. He has earned Peter DeBoer’s trust and best of all, he’s only 24 years old.
George McPhee doesn’t get them all right. But Tuch is making him look pretty damn smart. Ditto for Kelly McCrimmon, Vaughn Karpan and the rest of the team’s pro scouting contingent.
We had input from a lot of people. Minnesota was in a position where they had some stress from a salary cap standpoint and also from the cycle of where their team was at. They had a lot of really good players and we identified Minnesota as a team where we could get a prospect. If you go back to the expansion, we had the first (amateur) draft we drafted were ’99s and late ’98s. We didn’t have access to ’97s,’96s ’95s or ’94s. So there was value in dealing with one of the teams that were strapped to get one of the players from that age group, those exempt players. Alex Tuch was one of those players, born in ’96. Minnesota was in a tough spot. if they did nothing, they would’ve lost a top defenseman of forward. So it made sense for them and it made sense for us. -Kelly McCrimmon
I don’t know who is going to be the GM of the U.S. Olympic Team for next year’s Olympics in China, but if Tuch’s not on the list of invitees, something is definitely wrong. But more on that in a bit.
Let’s focus on the present. The Knights originally were in no rush to play Tuch. If you recall, he started the inaugural 2017-18 season with the Chicago Wolves. But late in October, he and Shea Theodore were recalled to the NHL and neither ever returned to the minors.
His progress has been steady, though injuries have slowed him down, his play in the Edmonton bubble last summer was a breakthrough and it has carried over into this truncated 2021 campaign. Despite playing with a variety of linemates, Tuch has delivered. He has seven goals and 13 points in 17 games so far and that’s one less goal than he had in 42 games last season. That Spin-O-Rama backhand goal he scored in the outdoor game last Saturday was as pretty as it gets.
Power Forward. Power Moves. pic.twitter.com/3Yl9g9oXqX
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Now, playing with Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone on Peter DeBoer’s top line, Tuch’s offense is going to increase measurably if not dramatically. His speed makes the entire line faster and it’s going to create opportunities he wasn’t getting playing on the third line.
But it’s his defense that has gotten my attention. He was subpar in his end of the ice earlier in his NHL career. However, his work and acceptance of DeBoer’s style of coaching has raised his game considerably.
When I got the job last January, Tuchy wasn’t in a great place. He hadn’t had a good season to date and had dealt with some injuries. It was a slow build getting his confidence back and also in earning our confidence that he could play well defensively and also contribute offensively. Part of it was adding penalty killing to his resume. To me, he handled all the things the right way. He asked questions. He worked hard on his game and it started with his play in the bubble and carried over to this season. -DeBoer
Much has been made of his chasing down Nathan MacKinnon in Monday’s game at Colorado and taking the Avalanche’s best player off the puck. To be sure, it was a big-time play. But Tuch’s been responsible in his own end all season and actually, it started to manifest itself in the bubble last summer as DeBoer indicated. He was hustling back, helping his defensemen out, and supporting the play. And once the Knights gained possession, Tuch used his speed to gain separation and make himself an inviting breakout target.
He’s also going to the opponents’ front of the net with more regularity and is getting rewarded for it. His big body can create havoc, especially on the power play where he’s freeing up space for a teammate because opposing defensemen have to account for him in front of their net.
It took Tuch a while to develop a 200-foot game but he’s there now. And when you’ve got guys with size, strength, and speed who are flexible and coachable, they become welcome additions to any coach’s lineup.
I’m still working on it every day. I just want to be hard to play against, whether that’s in the offensive zone or the D zone. It’s something I take pride in. -Tuch
Tuch, who grew up outside of Syracuse, N.Y., has represented his country on several occasions, most notably in the 2015 World Junior Championships. He was the team’s seventh-leading scorer on a roster that included Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, Will Butcher, J.T. Compher, Zach Werenski, Miles Wood, and Brandon Carlo along with goaltender Thatcher Demko. That team lost to Russia in the quarterfinals and wound up fifth.
I have no doubt Tuch would love to pull on that USA Sweater next February in Beijing. Current Penguins coach Mike Sullivan is a likely candidate to coach the U.S. in the Olympics and he was part of the 2015 staff at the World Juniors so he knows Tuch well.
Honestly I haven’t even thought about it. I’ve always been prideful of representing my country. If it happens, it’ll be the best thing ever. I’ll do everything in my power to try it if the opportunity comes up. -Tuch
The opportunity should present itself as long as he continues on the current path. DeBoer loves the maturity Tuch has shown and he has earned his time on the top line along with a spot on the special teams. And it’s a credit to McPhee, McCrimmon, and the team’s hockey ops department to see Tuch blossom into the player he’s become.
He took a big step in establishing consistency to his game and what you’re looking at with young players is to continue adding steps, continue to grow your game. That’s what you’ve seen with Alex this season. He’s been one of our better players and has consistently been all season. -McCrimmon
The team’s patience with Tuch has paid off. Even Hannibal Smith would have be impressed. And as viewers of The A-Team remember, he didn’t impress easily.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**